Digital Footprint: A Privacy Discussion

Social media icons inside the outline of a foot.

Your “digital footprint” from Career Rocketeer.

An important part of any educational curriculum in the digital age is the discussion of privacy, or lack thereof.  The concept of a digital footprint is critical to discuss with students, especially if you plan to incorporate social media into your lessons.

Whenever I think about privacy and the Internet, the statement used by police comes into my head: “Everything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”  For our purposes this phrase might be changed to something more like “everything you say can be used against you by anyone using the Internet.”

Anytime you use the Internet you leave behind a “digital footprint.”  If you are not commenting on sites or you are operating under an anonymous identity this footprint might be more faint.  However, your slight footsteps can still be tracked back to your IP address.  For those who operate online using their real name, the digital footprint is is a lot heavier and easier to track.  Try Googling your self and see what your digital footprint looks like.

Data miners use your digital tracks to gather data for marketing.  Online advertisements are targeted at you based on your digital footprint.  Employers can readily Google potential employees to see if their digital record checks out.  Your private life becomes much more exposed on the Internet and things that may seem private can easily become very public with a couple clicks of a “share” button.

It is really important to have discussions in your classroom about these topics.  The things you do and say on the Internet have the potential to generate really positive results, but can also have disastrous effects on a person’s reputation and well-being. In her article, “Helping Students Create Positive Digital Footprints” Christine Fisher highlights some of the ways teachers can guide students in monitoring their digital footprint.

You, as a teacher, can be an excellent role model by making your own online profiles, blogs, and portfolios an example.  A whole class could be spent helping students to monitor their own privacy settings on popular sites like Facebook.

With good judgement, respect for others, and good online etiquette the internet can be a positive environment.  By including topics of digital footprint and online privacy into the classroom, solid internet etiquette can be fostered amongst your students.

For a further discussion about digital footprint and privacy in the classroom take a listen to Michel Martin interviewing blogger Latoya Peterson and “Twitter Principal” Eric Sheninger on NPR.

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